Hubble Flyover Photo

9:28PM, there I am, sitting at my computer, when I realized that I should check the Hubble pass timings. Turned out it was flying over just then. So I grabbed my phone, a OnePlus One, whose camera can expose up to 8s. I used my Heavens-Above app to track the exact position of Hubble, and for the first time consciously, I saw Hubble streak across the sky. Just by coincidence, when I snapped this picture, it passed right by Arcturus (the bright dot, mag -.05, 4th brightest star in the night sky). I took a few more, and then broke into my happy dance, because my first ever attempt at photographing a satellite was this epic picture ­čśÇ

[Copypasta description of my post from another site since I’m not in the mood to rewrite a similar one]

It reminds me of when people are taking photos of people taking photos.
It’s “vaguely” sexy to think about what exactly I’m looking at whenever I see a satellite, especially a popular one, pass over me. Also clicking on the image takes you to an Imgur link of the image which is at full resolution.┬á
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Hubble Flyover Photo

The Two Types Of ISS

Twice in one day I got the same joke about In School Suspension vs International Space Station. I remember in middle school (and indeed high school, but not as often) needing to say out “International Space Station” instead of just saying ISS. I can’t tell you how many times people would look at me really funny when I say ISS, since their first thought is In School Suspension.

On that note I’ve never had In School Suspension, although I came close to getting ten days of it once. I’ve had one day of Out of School Suspension, but that was due to school protocol, and it was due to a misunderstanding which the dean fully understood was a misunderstanding.

But it got to the point I just had to make this quick doodle:

This would not be a punishment to me at all.
If they were one of the same thing, I’d have gotten in trouble all the time.

It’s hard to freehand the space station quickly.

Also don’t get me started on how many people think I’m saying ISIS when I say ISS.
Whatever the hell will I do with my UF student portal, which is affectionately also called ISIS. And the roman god Isis.

The Two Types Of ISS

Pluto the Dog Can Be Seen On Pluto the Dwarf Planet

So I’m *EXTREMELY* excited about all these Pluto and Charon pictures and whatnot! I spent a fair bit of time ignoring the talks about things I don’t care about at the UF preview (instance Rec Sports) to check out all the new Pluto news. Oh and my nickname is Pluto for my preview adviser, who put up the new picture of Pluto while the small group walked in and stuff.

But I can’t even begin to talk about all my excitement over Pluto!
Also I’m adamant that Pluto should be reconsidered to be a planet after seeing how active and complex its surface is.

If we find a planet with huge Mickey Mouse ears, I want it to be called Mickey.
Cue the “Disney is from Pluto” conspiracy theories.
Pluto the Dog Can Be Seen On Pluto the Dwarf Planet

Andromeda, Topology, and SMBC

A few things. First off, I saw Andromeda for the first time ever last weekend, on the 10th! I was at Big Pine Key and… ahh, it was so beautiful! Two and a half million year old light… it’s rather sexy, actually. And now that I know exactly where to look and what to look for, I’m able to see it from my house! Oh, it’s so beautiful. It’s a whole other galaxy. Looking at hundreds of millions of stars in about one square degree of sky… all that light traveling 2,538,000 light years, only to end that ages long journey on my retina… it’s really sexy to think about. Alright, I might be just the tiniest bit turned on by space. And by “tiniest bit” I mean quite a bit, as in, a lot.

On a random note, if I ever get the chance to name a chocolate bar, I’m going to call it Andromeda for one simple reason. There’s already a “Milky Way” chocolate. There must be an Andromeda. “Large Magellanic Cloud” doesn’t sound delicious… well, to me it does, but it doesn’t really sound like a chocolate bar. It’d be appropriate for cotton candy though.Oh great, now I’m thinking about galaxy names and what kind of candy it would be. “Arp 87” doesn’t really sound like any sort of candy. xD Now to look at the Hubble Deep Field again because it’s so beautiful… and then there’s that picture of Andromeda… mmm…

Second semester is going┬áto start… today, really. I gotta really work on my grades now. Like, really work on them. But now I don’t have college apps to stress me out. It’s also time to put this lighting to the test. Hopefully all should work out well and hopefully my dysfunctional family doesn’t get in the way again. My dad’s a little verbally abusive… but he’s away now, and hopefully he’ll stay away for a long time now so that I can get a little peace of mind…

This reminds me. No one gave me the room number of my Government teacher. I have to go to her class today, and apparently the school never gave the students their schedule changes. Ugh, yet another reason why my high school is… unfavorable… I can’t wait until I’m in a more organized college environment.

I’ve also taken up teaching myself topology. A professor friend of mine (he won’t tell me what college he’s a professor at, but I know he’s from Boston–not MIT though, I don’t think) has given me a copy of Armstrong (1983) Basic Topology, and it’s surprisingly readable. I’m working my way through it. Of course, it being a third-year topology textbook, and having taught myself only the basics of Set Theory, the book is not easy, so to speak, but it is definitely manageable. After getting through some of it, I’ll try and watch some lectures on YouTube. I’m sure there’s an OpenCourse one, but I want to see the other ones too and see which one I like the best. Virtual teacher quality matters, too!

On a side note, if you combine xkcd and SMBC together, that’s 95% me. There’s even a post that describes my “talk mathy to me” thing so accurately: http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2934#comic

Ahhh…

Andromeda, Topology, and SMBC

Comet Lovejoy Photograph

So my parents decided to take a two day, one night trip down to the Keys this past weekend. I’d recently learned about Big Pine Key, which was only about 45 minutes from Key West, and how it’s one of the best places in the southern US to stargaze.

Unfortunately, my parents are the type of people that think the darker and more unfamiliar a location is, the higher the density of rapists hiding in the trees (even though the only thing hiding in the trees were deer). My dad started cursing at me for being “stupid”┬á(he even dropped the f-bomb, and I’ve never heard him say it in front of me) and he completely ruined my evening. My mom ruined most of my photos because she had to shine a light at every “rapist” (deer) that came from the shadows, and as you know, astrophotography absolutely cannot have any light pollution to come out right.

Then the tripod’s swivel thing decided to break, and I had to hold it steady, else holding the shutter button (on bulb mode) would cause the camera to turn wildly. The tiny movements of my hand caused blur in many of my images, and I couldn’t take an exposure longer than 2 minutes, because that’s how frequently my paranoid parents kept either bugging me or flashing lights that would otherwise ruin the photo.

Even the picture below is highly edited in order to maximize the number of stellar objects visible. Many iterations of exposure edit and levels and color balance and whatnot. I didn’t get to photograph Andromeda, but I did see it for the first time in my life. That was one hell of a sight, as fuzzy and dim what I saw.

Anyways, Comet Lovejoy appears very clearly in this image (the Milky Way is very faint, and only is visible because of extensive post processing, although it was visible when I was there in Big Pine Key), and using the position maps and its distinctive color, I’m pretty sure I’ve circled the right dot.

TL;DR: Here’s Comet Lovejoy, among many stars in a post-processed picture, taken in rather unfavorable conditions, namely paranoid parents, in Big Pine Key.

"Or maybe it was THAT fuzzy dot?"
Read the associated post for information about this image.
Comet Lovejoy Photograph

Hypothetical Deep-Space Mission

With the recent news that Philae discovered that the water composition on 67P is much different than that of Earth (it has a much higher deuterium isotope content than Earth’s water), many scientists are reconsidering the theory that comets brought water to Earth. They are starting to generate new theories, such as thinking that asteroids brought water to Earth, or that Earth literally made its water by combining hydrogen and oxygen together. To me, To give up this theory so quickly based on very little data is ludicrous, especially given how numerously these balls consisting largely of frozen water pelted the Earth during the Late Heavy Bombardment. Somehow that water just disappeared, I assume?

I don’t think scientists should be ruling out the possibility that comets delivered water just based on one comet’s composition. I do think a mission should be launched that goes deep into the Kuiper Belt and Oort cloud to probe the ice and dust composition of several comets to see its composition. It may be that 67P is unique in its composition and is an outlier, or that all comets have entirely different compositions of water, or that there’s a difference between Kuiper Belt and Oort cloud comets chemically. Maybe one day I can lead such a mission?
Also, despite the fact the water on earth analyzed came from basalt formations, with plate tectonics and all, all of the truly ancient rocks that would have been exposed during the Late Heavy Bombardment would have long subducted. The water trapped in the basalt may be old, but it may not be old enough. By then, many other factors could have contributed to changing the deuterium ratio in water, which is what makes the composition of water found on 67P “different” from the composition of water found on earth today, including both cosmic and terrestrial factors.

I’m quite surprised that scientists are making any sort of verdict, no matter how weak the conjecture, based on only a couple of data points. Sure, at this moment, data points are scarce, but that is no reason to rule out this theory, even slightly, just yet. There may be no way to analyze the water from Earth’s past, since much like Earth’s impact crater history, much of the evidence has literally slipped under the Earth’s surface, wiped from existence; however, this has never stopped us from other endeavors.

There are other ways. It is possible to analyze the water composition of distant frozen bodies such as moons to see whether the composition of such matches that of various comets. Enceladus, for instance, may similarly have a “tainted” water composition due to the geochemical reactions and radiation it receives; however, especially under its surface, the water source would largely be uncontaminated by radiation, and comparatively little geochemical contamination with respect to Earth. There, the water source would be very pristine.

If in fact, the water is much like that detected in comets, then we can theorize that the water on Enceladus did come from comets. It would be relatively easy to collect samples of such–all we’d have to do is fly a probe through one of the geyser jets it spews out, collect the samples, analyze the deuterium isotope to the regular isotope of water, and compare it to that of comets. In fact, Cassini did something very similar in order to collect samples to analyze the organic chemistry of Enceladus. The difficult part would be sampling the comets in order to get a sufficient sample size of the isotopic chemistry of the water on the various comets.

To do such, I’d imagine a very lengthy (and sadly unimaginably costly) mission into various portions of space. We’d launch a mother-probe. This mother probe would be filled with hundreds of tiny “mini-probes.” The sole function of this miniprobe would be to analyze the isotopic composition of the comet’s water-ice; however, if such a mission were to actually happen, it would be highly cost effective if we essentially made each probe a mini-Philae of sorts. That way, we would not only make a comprehensive sample of the isotopic composition of water on the comets, but also could potentially make a comprehensive sample of the organic chemistry of each comet. I should say that each miniprobe would contain only a spectrograph of sorts; that way it could complete many chemistry experiments, observations, and analyses, making the most out of one instrument. It might also contain a small camera, just to compare landscapes on the different comets that will be sampled–particularly the difference between comets in the inner solar system, outer solar system, Kuiper Belt, and Oort Cloud.

While the mother-probe is waiting for the signals from the mini-probe, it would also analyze the composition of the comet’s tail, to see if it differs in any way from the ice on the comet. Why? If we find the composition of the tail is much higher in deuterium than on the surface of the comet, it shows that over time, the ratio of the deuterium isotope to the normal isotope slowly reduces, as deuterium gets blasted off into space to form the comet tail. It would also be good to analyze the organic chemistry of the tail while it’s waiting, to see how much organic material is being blasted out into space. If many comets are blasting out significant amounts of organic chemicals into space, this could show that there is a significant amount of organic dust in space, just waiting to be pulled in by the gravity of some astronomical body, quite literally scattering the seeds of life around the solar system.

We’ve analyzed such for a couple of comets–three if I remember correctly, but three comets can hardly be considered a sample size. As such, I think it’s crucial that we eventually plan some sort of a mission like this to collect a large sample of data.┬áThis mission may take a hundred years or so to complete, and that’s no hyperbole. It took the Voyagers 1 and 2 nearly half a century to get to the Kuiper Belt, and this mission would need to probe the Oort cloud to be truly comprehensive. It would span my entire lifetime–if I’m lucky enough to live that long. Even if it were launched today, by the time the century-long mission would be completed, I’d be 117 years old. It’s likely I will survive that long, but it’s still questionable.

It takes light about fourteen and a half hours to reach Voyager 2 from Earth, and it’s barely inside the Kuiper Belt. To put that in perspective, the entire Oort cloud reaches out to an entire light-year, which is a quarter of the way to our nearest star. Now of course such a reach would be unrealistic for many reasons, but one can imagine multiple “carrier” probes being released from the mother-probe.

These probes would carry a small handful of the miniprobes in various directions, dropping them off at comets surrounding it into the far reaches of the Kuiper belt and just inside the Oort cloud. The miniprobes would send signals back to the carrier probes, which would send signals back to the mother-probe. Once that region has been scanned, the mother-probe would move on to a different region and do the same task. This would also conserve fuel, which would otherwise generate unnecessary costs.

We would still need to work out what the most cost-effective way to collect samples from hundreds–at least a thousand–different comets would be. It would obviously be the most costly mission ever launched, but we could conclusively determine the composition of water in the comets, and how abundant organic compounds are in the solar system, among many other things. If we use this in conjunction with the compounds on Enceladus (and the data from the planned mission to there to analyze its organic chemistry in greater detail), especially if we find traces of microbial life there, then we can finally get a good picture of whether or not comets are bringers of water–and likely life. If we analyze other large untouched icy bodies and get a similar picture, then we can be almost certain that comets brought water to earth–and perhaps even life.

Perhaps the microbial life might be found on the comets, too. The greatest fear of looking for life extraterrestially is the fear of contamination from Earth biology. No matter how much sterilization we do, there always seems to be some trace of bacteria left on the probes. Surely if a large number of the hundreds of miniprobes we send out return positive, it can’t possibly be a false positive. That’s another plus to doing these mini-missions, among many. Some of the probes may fail, but if even only 20% of the thousand miniprobes we send out succeed in its mission, we still have a very large set of 200 data points to work from. Ah, I love Science! There’s never a shortage of things to learn and learn from!

I think I got a little carried away with postulating this hypothetical mission, but I do think a mission like this is necessary for truly discovering our origins. It may be expensive, but it’ll answer many of the biggest questions we have today either directly or as a result of its findings. It may not be finished within my lifetime, but I’d be happy to see it launched and start working at its mission. What do you think?

Spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace!
At least one of the probes should be shaped like Space Core just because no one said we can’t have fun while still doing science in spaaaaaace!
Hypothetical Deep-Space Mission